Wednesday, July 9, 2008

my movie life

This post is not part of Film Club proper, but is part of Culture Snob's "Self-Involvement" Blog-A-Thon, running July 9-13th. For this Blog-A-Thon, Jeff's asked film bloggers to blog not so much about movies, but about oneself, as seen through the lens of movies. As an example, he linked to an old piece of his writing, "My Movie Life," sharing some key personal details about, well, his life and the movies. That proved too irresistible a model not to follow steal. So without further ado, here's a cool thirty fragments of my own movie life.

1. The first movie I remember seeing was Star Wars (1977), which I saw with my parents at the local drive-in theatre. I remember items in the car (in particular, a Styrofoam cooler) more than I remember anything about that particular viewing of the movie.

2. I feel fortunate to have had that drive-in theatre as a place to hang out in my adolescence, an experience that nothing else really substitutes for. Movies I can remember seeing there: Jurassic Park (1993), Total Recall (1990), Mom and Dad Save the World (1992). The site of the drive-in is now a Target.

3. I can remember having to leave the theatre early during a viewing of Superman (1978), because I was sniveling and crying. (I think the reason for this was because the non-Superman parts were too slow and boring, but I cannot really recall the incident.)

4. The first cinematic nudity I ever saw was on videotape; a friend showed me Risky Business (1983) and the nearly-forgotten My Tutor (1983).

5. The first cinematic nudity I saw in the theatre was Revenge of the Nerds (1984). (I was with a group of young men who went for a friend's birthday party; we were accompanied by his father.)

6. The only R-rated movie I can recall being turned away from at the box office was David Cronenberg's The Fly (1986); it is still one of my favorite movies.

7. I can remember seeing a videotaped copy of Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) in around sixth grade, and I remember the first murder in that film made an astonishing impact on me. I still can't watch that movie without feeling a mix of anticipation and genuine dread as that scene approaches.

8. In the wake of this, I spent maybe five years watching as many different 80s slasher or monster movies as I could get my hands on, most of them not very good.

9. The films that mark the end of this phase, for me, are Bloodsucking Freaks (1976) and I Spit on Your Grave (1978), both of which I saw in 1990 or 1991, and both of which left me feeling depressed and more than a little unclean. My relationship to horror has been love-hate ever since.

10. Around 1988-1990 I saw videotaped copies of Blue Velvet (1986) and Pink Flamingos (1979), both of which, in their own ways, provided the same visceral shock that Nightmare on Elm Street had provided, but both clearly had agendas that were more complicated than mere shock. Each of these dramatically expanded my sense of what cinema could legitimately try to do.

11. I saw Wild at Heart (1990) three times in the theatre. Its prurient mix of sex, violence, and Americana really was pretty ideal for me at age 17. (As an adult, I've come to think of it as one of Lynch's weaker films.) A few years later I saw Pulp Fiction (1994) in the theatre three times. I believe the most recent film I've done that with was The Incredibles (2004).

12. Eraserhead (1977) was a David Lynch film that was legendary in my suburban neighborhood (this was in the wake of Twin Peaks, when David Lynch was getting cover-story profiles in Time) but copies of it were hard to find—there was only one video store in the area that carried it (Southampton Video). That was the first movie that I went substantially out of my way to see. (It is still one of my favorite movies.)

13. Delicatessen (1991) was the first film that I read reviews of when it was still in theaters, and travelled into Philly from my suburban home to see at an art house theatre (the Ritz, where I would later work for a short stint). The second film I did this for was Naked Lunch (1991). (Both of these are still among my favorite movies.)

14. The first film I ever saw that I wanted to watch again the second I finished it was Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985).

15. Movies I owned, early on: I recorded Yellow Submarine (1968) off of television; I bought a copy of Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982) when the video store was liquidating their Betamax stock; I purchased a copy of Heathers (1989) in 1990 and began to wear a black trench coat almost immediately thereafter. I've probably seen each of these films at least ten times, and I don't think I've seen any of them in the last ten years, although I still own a copy of Yellow Submarine.

16. The first foreign-language film I ever saw was probably Fellini's Amarcord (1973).

17. The first foreign-language film I ever counted as one of my favorite films was Fellini's 8 1/2 (1963).

18. I owe a lot of my film literacy to my years at La Salle University, in Philadelphia, which had a private screening room in the basement of the library that students could use, and a fairly good stock of freely-available films. This was a great resource at a time when I had little money, and I saw an incredible number of important films in that little room.

19. One of the things I watched down there was Fantasia (1940), which also marks the first time I ever took acid.

20. I took a few great film seminars at La Salle, including one on Hitchcock and one on Coppola, Scorsese, and Woody Allen (a course inspired, I believe, by their pairing in the relatively weak New York Stories (1989)).

21. The first film writing I can ever remember doing I did for these seminars: I remember doing a "close reading" on a scene from Taxi Driver (1976) and one on the dream sequence from Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945).

22. Also at LaSalle, some other film geek students and I formed a film club. We were allowed to use one of the screening classrooms as long as we could make the argument that we were using it for educational purposes; to this end, we were required to have a student give an informative lecture about whatever film we'd screened. I can recall personally giving lectures on A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Barton Fink (1991).

23. Also at La Salle, in someone's dorm room, I watched my first pornographic video. The name eludes me but I did not find it especially erotic. (I am pretty sure that on the same day and in the same dorm room, I saw Blade Runner (1982) for the first time.)

24. I am seldom aroused by film (including porn); that may be a side effect of being in my mid-thirties, but I can't remember being especially aroused by any earlier films, either. Perhaps it's the mediating effect of cinema, but movies make sex or nudity seem weirdly abstract or stylized somehow (I think it may do the same thing with violence, only to a net positive effect instead of a net negative effect). In any case, film ranks a distant fourth in terms of its erotic impact on me (behind interpersonal interaction, imagination, and language (either written or spoken)).

25. Along these lines, I mostly don't get crushes on actresses, although there are at least a few who have done a scene here or there that is stored somewhere in my erotic memory. I will confess, however, that in early adolescence I found Wendy Schall's character in The 'Burbs (1989) to be the paragon of female beauty. And there was a period where I probably wanted a girlfriend like Beetlejuice / Heathers-era Winona Ryder. More recently, I wanted a girlfriend like Patricia Arquette in True Romance (1993), and I appreciate every moment of her smokin'-hot presence in Lost Highway (1997).

26. The last movie I can remember feeling aroused by while viewing was Sex and Lucia (2001). If anyone's got a more recent recommendation of something that Worked For You, well, that's what the comments box is for. Bring it on.

27. The last movie that made me squirm in my seat with discomfort was Oldboy (2003), and the one before that was Audition (1999). I found the first Saw (2004) to be laughably tame by comparison. Again I'll ask for recommendations.

28. I went through a period where I didn't watch many movies, roughly 2004-2006.

29. I got re-interested in them through a project where I tried to come up with a "canon" of 100 important films for a friend. The final version, as I came up with it, is here, and the set of posts that documents the entire long process of brainstorming it can be found here. This made me realize how much I liked film, and how many important films I still hadn't seen.

30. I keep track of everything I see nowadays, and export the results to a webpage which can be viewed here. I try to do at least a short write-up of nearly everything I see and many of these get cross-posted to Netflix. My reviewer rank at Netflix, as of this writing, is 36,928, and if there's anything more self-involved than monitoring your Netflix reviewer rank, I don't know what it might be.


James Yates said...

As far as film crushes go, I have to submit my pick for a film we've traded comments on before: Zooey Deschanel in "All the Real Girls." Her character (for me) wasn't about arousal, but merely sheer beauty in an unconvential form.

I think David Gordon Green captured the relationship perfectly. Haven't we all felt that sucker-punch at some point? Okay, I think I need to screen the DVD this week. I might do a write-up on it soon, perhaps this week.

James Yates said...

Forgive the awful spelling of my last post.

jpb said...

Oh, yeah, she is mind-achingly beautiful in that film. I could probably add her as the most recent "imaginary film girlfriend" on this list. Good call!